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Liquid Death raises $9M in series A: So, is branding all about packaging and communication?

This was in the news a few days ago. Liquid death raised 9 million US dollars in its series A funding round. Someone forwarded it in a whatsapp group. I come across such news every now and then, but this one caught my eye due to the catchy name, “Liquid Death”.

It got me wondering what this product might be that it is named so, and has raised a handsome amount from the money folks. If you go through the article I read here, you will realize that they are selling packaged water.

Surprised? Yes, I was too. In fact, I was aghast, horrified and stupefied. Somebody paid a lot of money to fund water in an aluminium can.

Why would investors value this brand high enough to shell out their money?

I have put together few things below that call for and against it. Lets first look at the plus points.

Why the brand is cool

For one, the brand name is really catchy. It got me looking its way instantly. A person like me who didn’t know its existence earlier, delved right in to find out what the whole deal was. You don’t often get that from brand names.

As rightly pointed out by the founder and CEO, Mike Cessario, start-ups don’t have much money at the start for marketing. You need to make the most amount of noise with the little gun powder that you have. They used the brand name as an opportunity and came up with a literally killer name that ended up creating the requisite waves.

Their communication too is quirky and out of the box. Who else have you heard saying something in the lines of, “Murder your thirst”, and displaying posters of the can with hands beheading people? Shocking! Everything they do is to shock the audience and hammer themselves in the minds of the consumers.

Check some of their content below on instagram.

View this post on Instagram

Nothing can prepare your thirst for the horror of Liquid Death Mountain Water.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ When a group of teenagers set off into the mountains for a weekend of drinking regular water in plastic bottles, they become hunted by an aluminum can of mountain water that is dead set on murdering their thirsts and recycling their souls.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ Once cracked open, no thirst is safe from Liquid Death. After ritually killing and dismembering its thirst victims, this brutal can of water uses the severed body parts of dead thirsts to build itself a flesh suit which it uses as a disguise to get a job in marketing. But Liquid Death never takes the job. It just murders a bunch more thirsts instead.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣⁣WATER you gonna do when then CAN comes for you? ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ ????Design by the amazing @iamsteelberg ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ #liquiddeath #murderyourthirst #deathtoplastic #thirstmassacre #steelberg #vhs #horror

A post shared by Liquid Death (@liquiddeath) on

For more insights, check out their advert below.

Yeah, I have to admit, their communication and branding is out of the box. The recall value of such unusual, yet interesting content, is very high.

As for the product, Sustainable packaging is probably its only selling point, but its a strong selling point. Climate change is a serious issue in the world right now, threatening the existence of the entire gamut of species living on this earth. Its a strong call to action, especially among the young crowd. For such a conscious generation, a proposition of an infinitely recyclable packaging has an unparalleled appeal.

Considering the above, yes, the brand has some appeal. But lets look at the flip side of matters.

Why would I not give them my money

Firstly, marketing aside, there is little that this brand offers. Like I said before, the product they are selling is only the packaging.

I have a thing for not believing in marketing, unless the product has some value in it to offer to an identified segment of consumers. Why else would a customer be loyal to a brand? When a consumer decides to buy something because someone recommends it, or if they have seen its adverts, their experience of the product must be good. If they like the product they will buy it. If they like it more than the others in the same category, then they would be willing to pay a price premium to get the same experience again and again, hence resulting in a loyal customer base.

In this case, its just water. Unless they have a differentiated taste that really helps consumers quench thirst in a different way, I don’t see how consumers will stay hooked onto them.

The brand owners believe otherwise. Check the quote below from the other article.

Cessario responded that when it comes to food and beverage products, branding is the biggest differentiator, because “consumers aren’t stupid.” They don’t actually believe that one product is dramatically better than the other; it’s more about which brand they feel affinity with.

Techcrunch artile

There might be some truth in what Cessario says, meaning that consumers might not be able to differentiate between food and drink products greatly, like being unable to say whether Coca Cola is better than Pepsi or not in an unbranded blind taste test. It is only probably because Coca Cola marketing might have made more impact than Pepsi and hence it is the leader.

If you look at it that way, then yes, the products are not differentiated greatly and the brand affinity is what matters. I guess in categories where differentiation is extremely difficult, this is how the game could be played.

But in the case of Liquid Death, this brand is essentially selling only the packaging and the branding. There is no product. In case of coke, there is a sweetened water, which needs to be manufactured, and isn’t available on running taps. Besides, you have to give some leeway to Coca Cola for the head start it had as a first mover in the category.

So, Cessario and Liquid Death team believe that the branding differentiation is enough to take them all the way. Would you agree that this is a differentiator that is good enough to keep competition away? Could it be just a fad? Can coca cola catch on and launch an aluminum can of water with Justin Bieber and Taylor swift branded packaging? Could the big beverage guys Nestle, Coca Cola and Pepsi, wipe this heavy metal branded company completely away with their marketing muscle? How many people think heavy metal is cool among the new generation anyway?

Check out my goofy cans below to give you a sample of how easily this concept can be copied and recreated for a wider appeal. You got Liquid Death, let me come up with Liquid Love, Heal your thirst… with Love! Even with my shoddy designs, well, I could create an affinity for people who choose love over death, couldn’t I?

Liquid-Love

Well, I am just having fun, not going to launch such a thing, at least not yet. But I hope you get the idea of why I am not going to invest into such a company even if I get invited to. Ideas need to be implementable, differentiated and value adding. On top of everything it needs to be scale-able, without the threat of serious imitators. Even if there are imitators, differentiation and branding together ensure that brands survive.

So, my final verdict for Liquid Death: It is a very clever way of introducing a new brand and a good initiative towards sustainability. They have really achieved wonders which I couldn’t possibly achieve in my current state of lethargy and procrastination. But the road ahead might not be as smooth and sunshine-ey for this brand. Without any differentiation, it will be a hard sell for them to extend themselves far and soon there will be others playing in the same category, with possibly stronger call to action.

That being said, they have a head start and as long as they innovate with new products, and keep themselves fresh and valuable in the minds of the consumers, they will succeed and the investors will make a lot of money.

Good luck to them indeed!

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